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The Four Silliest Rules of Golf

  • Jeff Dufour

Golf Etiquette

When the British Open tees off tomorrow, a few things are almost guaranteed:

—The wind will blow. —Phil Mickelson will not win. —Mike Tirico will wax rhapsodic about the Claret Jug. —Someone will be called for a ridiculous, and probably unjust, penalty. He may even call such penalty on himself.

And that last one is a big problem in the game of golf. The deliciously named Royal & Ancient, which puts on the Open Championship, also oversees the Rules of Golf in conjunction with the USGA. And for decades, those two bodies have been derelict in adapting the rules to reflect how the game is typically played and, in some cases, to reflect basic common sense.

As you probably recall, at this year’s Masters, Tiger Woods had to add a penalty stroke and replay his shot after it hit the flagstick and caromed into the water (itself a pretty unfair rule when you think about it). But then things really got crazy. After the round, Tiger had to take another two penalty strokes once a TV viewer noticed that he’d dropped his new ball two yards too far away from the hole.

At the time, Tiger blamed a simple brain freeze, but remember: Tiger Woods is the No. 1 player in the world, and even he sometimes can’t keep track.

Now, amateurs at the local muni course don’t have to worry about busybodies sitting at home on their recliners, but they do have to worry about slow play, frustration and confusion regarding the rules.

Here then are a few of the oddest, most esoteric rules in the game. If the golfing public ever calls for a constitutional convention, may they start by amending these:

Rule 5-3: “A ball is not unfit for play solely because mud or other materials adhere to it.” Because the game isn’t hard enough already, they’d like you to play with a half-ounce of dirt stuck to the side of your ball, too. New Rule: Lift, clean and place applies everywhere (or at least in the fairway).

Rule 8-1: “A player must not a.) give advice to anyone in the competition playing on the course other than his partner, or b.) ask for advice from anyone other than his partner or either of their caddies.” This is a gentleman’s game, mind you. But that gentlemanliness doesn’t extend to you telling your opponent, who may be new to the course, that his shot plays a full club longer than he thinks. If you do, it’s a two-stroke penalty. New Rule: Give or ask for as much advice as you like (or at least until you get annoying). You’re still the one who has to hit the shot.

Rule 18-2 b: “If a player’s ball in play moves after he has addressed it (other than as a result of a stroke), the player is deemed to have moved the ball and incurs a penalty of one stroke.” This is the one you always see the pros calling on themselves. They take their stance over the ball, then anything from a gust of wind to simple gravity causes it to roll over halfway. Then they’re screwed. New Rule: Adopt the honor system (because, again, it’s a gentleman’s game). If you didn’t mean to move the ball, you don’t get penalized. Just like on the tee.

Rule 26-1 b: Among your options from a water hazard: play another ball from the same spot, or “drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped.” Huh? Exactly. This is the one that got Tiger, as he apparently conflated the rules about rehitting with the rules about dropping. New Rule: Play everything like a lateral water hazard. That is, replay your shot, or just drop it within a couple club lengths from where it entered the hazard. But make sure there’s not a CBS camera following you.